Chapter 2 and chapter 3 have a kind of symmetry, with chapter 2 asking, “Is religion poisonous?” and chapter 3 asking, “Is atheism poisonous?” Lennox shows in chapter 2 that when mounting their case against religion, “the New Atheists undermine their own case… by lumping all religions together indiscriminately, as if all religions were equally guilty of the charge of fomenting dangerous behavior” (p. 60). Then Lennox shows in chapter 3 that they are equally unobjective and unscholarly in the way they dismiss as irrelevant all the atrocities carried out by atheistic regimes on the 20th Century.
It is not just Christian commentators like Lennox who find fault with the New Atheists’ scholarship regarding religion and religious history. I have already mentioned the opinion of David Sloan Wilson, but there are others, too.
- Lennox notes that Britain’s Prospect magazine described Dawkins’ book The God Delusion as “incautious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory” – this even though the magazine had earlier voted Dawkins a world-class intellectual (p. 60).
- Even Sam Harris, who is ordinarily included as one of the New Atheists, dissents from the group on this point, writing, “Christians often complain that atheists and the secular world generally balance every criticism of Muslim extremism with a mention of Christian extremism… Our Christian neighbours, even the craziest of them, are right to be outraged by this pretence of even handedness, because the truth is that Islam is quite a bit scarier and more culpable for needless human misery, than Christianity has been for a very, very long time” and (earlier) “There are very few of us who lie awake at night worrying about the Amish” – cited in (Lennox, 2011, p. 60).
Some non-Christian commentators have also contradicted the New Atheists’ position regarding the relationship between atheism and atrocities.
- Peter Singer and Marc Hauser have written, “…the conclusion is clear: neither religion nor atheism has a monopoly on the use of criminal violence” – cited in (Lennox, 2011, p. 91).
- John Gray, “not an obvious friend of theism”, writes, “The role of the Enlightenment in twentieth-century terror remains a blind spot in western perception” – cited in (Lennox, 2011, p. 92).
If Hitchens and Dawkins had studied the available sources and scholarly works with academic impartiality, this is some of the evidence regarding Christianity that they ought to have considered, but did not:
- The New Testament itself would have shown them that “Christendom is not the same as Christianity, “ and “Christendom’s violence was not Christian, for the simple reason that it was diametrically opposed to what Christ himself taught” (Lennox, 2011, p. 63).
- Tolerance and Violence, a comprehensive work by German historian Arnold Angenendt could have shown the New Atheists that they have not only got Christ’s teaching wrong, but they are also guilty of misrepresenting the subsequent history of Christendom (Lennox, 2011, p. 68).
- Studies like those carried out by David Sloan Wilson and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Lennox, 2011, p. 74) and also by the American Journal of Public Health show, on the basis of huge volumes of data, the “advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health” (Lennox, 2011, pp. 76-77).
Lennox concludes chapter 2 by aptly quoting Noam Chomsky: “I think the sharpest turn away from reason is among the educated intellectuals who advocate reason and blame others for turning away from it. If we can’t even reach the level of applying to ourselves rational standards of the kind that we apply to others, our commitment to reason is very thin” (Lennox, 2011, p. 62) and in his conclusion to chapter 3 Lennox says, “The New Atheists do their best to show that violence, cruelty, and war lie at the heart of Christianity, but have nothing whatsoever to do with atheism…. [But] investigation of the teaching of Christ and the teaching of the aforementioned anti-religious ideologies of the twentieth century shows the exact opposite to be the case” (p. 93).